Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

A petrol crisis emerged last week in the UK which was entirely of the coalition government’s own making.

Following irresponsible comments by cabinet office minister Francis Maude suggested that people should store petrol in jerry cans (in preparation for an impending strike, which for the time being does not look set to happen).

This was further compounded a day or so later by energy minister, Lib Dem Ed Davey who told the public, in an interview for the BBC, but also here on the Telegraph, that people should ensure their petrol tanks are slightly more full than usual, maybe two thirds full instead of the average one third full.

These unhelpful comments were going to cause equal amounts of unrest and inevitably it lead to further panic buying.

As Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, rightly pointed out at the end of Andrew Marr’s breakfast show on Sunday (1 April), the government was seeking to make a political point and it couldn’t have chosen a more irresponsible way of doing so. It created a national panic and had to go to lengths to address the situation it had created.

Health Secretary, Andrew Lansely, offered a weak defense yesterday during Sky News’ Dermot Murnaghan programme, which you can read about here in the Telegraph.

Meanwhile Cooper also appeared in print, only this time discussing serious policy issues in yesterday’s Sunday Mirror.

She unveiled plans which would ensure the Police are forced to respond to every single complaint about anti-social behaviour within 24 hours under plans unveiled by Labour.
This is a far tougher stance than moves planned by Home ¬Secretary Theresa May. Her plans, which will be launched in a trial later this summer, will only work when five ¬different residents make a complaint, only then will police and councils are forced to act.

Cooper condemned this move in her article as ‘crazy’ the Tory plan to force at least five neighbours to complain about anti-social behaviour before any action is taken and vows ¬Labour’s response would be much tougher.
She also criticises the government’s decision to get rid of ASBO’s a successful way of targeting anti-social behaviour which was set up under the last Labour government. You can read her article in yesterday’s Sunday Mirror here.

Last week I reported on The House of Lords Constitution Committee has just produced a report which warned targets may be required in order to encourage more women and ethnic minority judges in the same was as quotas for company boards is under consultation. The aim, of course, is to better reflect society, and the aim is to do this in the next five years. You can read more on my blog here.

Lords defeat coalition’s domestic violence cuts

Labour Party

Thank goodness for the House of Lords. Our noble lords and ladies are really coming up trumps in amending ill-thought through anti-humanitarian bills sent to them by the House of Commons. They are already doing much needed sterling work to get rid of the worst parts of Andrew Lansley’s health proposals. Now they have added legal aid, especially in relation to domestic violence, to their victory roll.

The House of Lords secured a real triumph yesterday evening when it passed a Labour amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill urging the protection of victims of domestic violence from funding cuts. The amendment got through with 238 votes for to 201 against, a majority of 37, despite, as reported by the BBC, Justice Minister Lord McNally telling the Lords, “This government is absolutely committed to supporting action against domestic violence and supporting the victims of domestic violence whether through legal aid funding or other means.” Peers evidently thought otherwise.

The Attorney-General under the last Labour Government, Baroness Patricia Scotland, was the driving force behind this amendment. Scotland, a strong and committed campaigner, founded the Global Foundation for the Elimination of Domestic Violence to undertake concrete action on this horrific form of abuse. I was privileged to meet her a few months ago to discuss how MEPs and the EU as a whole could work with her organisation to combat violence to women and children. Her amendment in the Lords was supported by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair and Baroness Butler-Sloss, one-time head of the Family Division of the High Court.

Pulling no punches, Patricia Scotland warned that women and children could die if the legal aid proposals went through. The Tory-led coalition’s now discredited plans would have meant that medical evidence from a GP, A&E counsellor or women’s refuge would not have been sufficient to qualify under the bill’s original proposals. And it was, of course, all about cuts. The government wants to £350 million from the legal aid budget and deemed domestic violence services suitable for the axe.

Domestic violence is a hidden crime. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes, one of the most respectable organisations in the country, said that they felt the proposed new rules would fail victims too scared or traumatised to go to the police. This is borne out by the fact that two-thirds of women using Women’s Aid refuges in 2010 did not report the first incident to the police, typically waiting until three to five incidents.

Let’s hope that the Tory-led coalition will now understand just how important it is to provide adequate legal aid services to domestic violence victims. This is not an area of policy where governments can cut willy-nilly. The consequences are far too grave. We need more resources to combat violence and abuse against women and children not Tory cut-backs.

Sex-selective termination is not the inevitable consequence of access to abortion

Labour Party

The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) has claimed that terminating pregnancies on the basis of the sex of the foetus is the “inevitable consequence” of easy access to abortion.

SPUC felt motivated to put forward this appalling and inaccurate view following revelations in the Daily Telegraph that doctors agreed to carry out abortions on the grounds of the sex of the foetus. The Daily Telegraph sent undercover reporters to nine abortion clinics in Britain and found three cases where women wanted a termination because of the gender of the foetus.

Abortion carried out because the potential baby is the wrong sex is completely and utterly reprehensible. It is also illegal, according to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. In England, Scotland and Wales that there are criteria which have to be met to have a termination before 24 weeks, including:

  • Continuing with the pregnancy would be a greater risk to the woman’s life, physical or mental health than ending the pregnancy
  • Continuing would be more of risk to the physical or mental health of any of the women’s existing children
  • There is a real risk the unborn child would have a serious physical or mental disability

In addition, two doctors have to agree to the abortion, or one in the case of an emergency, and conditions are stricter for abortions carried out after 24 weeks. In Northern Ireland abortion is usually illegal unless the mother’s life is at risk.

So despite what SPUC may have you believe, it is actually quite difficult under the law to get an abortion. We do not have “easy access” to abortion. There are strict requirements for the procedure to be undertaken in a legal fashion.

In response to the Daily Telegraph investigation SPUC makes an extraordinary claim, namely, “This investigation confirms the reality of eugenics in modern British medicine.” Making accusations such as this is both stupid and deeply offensive.   

The Daily Telegraph does not tell us which sex was preferred and which sex was consigned to the dustbin of termination. My strong hunch is that it is girls who are not wanted. Female foetuses are terminated in India because of their gender, and the same is probably true in other parts of the world. We need more information on whether it is girls who are terminated in larger numbers than boys so that the problem of parents not wanting females can be properly addressed.  

The Department of Health has launched an inquiry into the claims the abortions are carried out on the basis of sex and Andrew Lansley has roundly condemned the practice. Let’s hope he has more success with this inquiry, and subsequently ensuring the current abortion laws are obeyed, than he is currently having with the disastrous NHS Bill.

A Bill in Ill-Health

Labour Party

You may be interested to see this article which I wrote for Tribune magazine last week:

“Pause. Listen, and engage”. This was the hollow tone of the Prime Minister in April this year as he created the mother of all PR stunts, and announced he would put on hold the Health and Social Care Bill.

If this government is characterised by anything it has to be humiliation. Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, was forced into the chamber earlier this year to humiliatingly announce the unpopular bill had been put on hold. Deserted by colleagues with just the chief whip and one or two other figures sitting beside him showing support it was the first of many such occurrences.

If Lansley’s ‘pause, listen engage’ exercise, was embarrassing then Tory MP, Nadine Dorries’, attempt at introducing an amendment on abortion was positively mortifying.

Dorries is at the forefront of a controversial plan to limit advice given to pregnant women considering terminations.

And last Wednesday she threw the PM of piste with her question during PMQ’s when she asked him: “How is it that the Liberal Democrats, with fewer than nine per cent of MPs, seem to be running the Government?”

Somewhat perturbed he answered bashfully and announced Dorries was clearly ‘frustrated.’ Cue a chamber bursting of raucous laughter and a blushing Dorries left humiliated as the butt of the class joke.

Yet the true joke has to be on the government who just 24 hours before this had back peddled faster than the sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur could circumnavigate the globe.

Although No.10’s U-turn reflected that the argument put forward by Dorries was completely flawed, it also showed their flaky approach to their own legislation.

Further scrutiny, of her proposal caused it to collapse. Dorries had argued that organisations such as British Pregnancy Advisory Service [BPAS] and Marie Stopes should be stripped of their exclusive responsibility for counselling on the basis that they have a financial interest in advising women to have abortions.

Both groups are paid millions by the NHS to carry out terminations – and so to profit from the process as Dorries suggested is an ultimately flawed argument.

Both the BPAS and Marie Stopes are not-for-profit registered charities that have no financial stake in encouraging abortions. Had the government sought to investigate this further it almost certainly wouldn’t have supported this in the first place.

The back pedalling occurred amid a bonfire of opposition. The roaring fire, akin to the extravagant displays put on each year by the Lewes Borough Bonfire Society, threatened to further destabilise the already fragile Tory led coalition and its flawed plan.

As an art of how to do politics, this isn’t a good example. Above all else one must be bold and confident of introducing plans and especially so when it is this controversial.

You must invite key stakeholders on the journey with you ensuring you receive their support from the start. Instead the government had alienated the very people it needed support from the most.

If this bill is a barometer of the government’s rude health then the emergency bell should be ringing in everyone’s ears. This is a government characterised by uncertainty, ritual humiliation (and that’s of its own people), flaky support of its own legislation and much back peddling.

If we pause, listen and engage our ears enough we can just hear squeaks from Number 10; it’s the spokes turning on Cameron’s cycling machine as he pedals faster and faster to nowhere.

Excellent Result in Oldham East and Saddleworth

Labour Party

Excellent news in Oldham East and Saddleworth. Gaining more than 42 percent of the vote with a majority of over 3500 Labour has demonstrated that we are coming back strongly. We are once again a force to be reckoned with.

Tellingly the Conservative vote collapsed, a mere 4500 votes, just under 13 percent, a very poor third indeed. As we may have expected the Liberal Democrats took 31.9 percent, unsurprising perhaps in this Liberal area.

Our new MP, Debbie Abrahams, is an expert on health and I very much hope she will put this to good use in the House of Commons. There is, indeed much to be done, not least in response to the Tory-led coalition’s recent public consultation document.  

Martin Rathfelder, Director of the Socialist Health Association (SHA), recently panned Liberating the NHS: Greater choice and control saying Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s idea that free market competition will drive up standards and drive down prices was communicated in a duplicitous way.

The words ‘private’, “market” or “commercial” do not, in fact, appear in the 58-page document. Instead, commercial services are referred to as ‘any willing provider’ or as ‘independent providers’, obviously an attempt to stop people saying what they think about NHS privatisation. Companies owned by shareholders and hedge funds are not independent. They are accountable to owners who want to see profits.

The British Attitudes Survey has already found that the public are suspicious of private organisations running or providing public services. Less than a third of those surveyed favoured private companies providing NHS hospital services. It is sad when a public consultation document that claims to be ‘about giving people the information they need to exercise control’ is doing the opposite, for fear of the public saying what the Conservative-led government already knows they think. 

The SHA have said they support choice for patients over treatment options and amongst existing (mostly NHS) providers, as indeed do I. Most patients want more choice about how they are treated. Fewer want a choice about where they are treated, and most money is spent on patients who are too ill to choose. The examples of choice in the document are choices which are already available to patients. The plan to fragment services so that every aspect of the patient pathway is exposed to competition is not apparent to the reader.

You may be interested to know that the Socialist Health Association, which helped to establish the NHS in 1948, has seen its membership shoot up 10% since the publication of Mr Lansley’s plans for the NHS, graphically illustrating that people do not trust the Tories with the NHS.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

Although the week’s news was dominated by the minute-by- minute updates of alleged  Northumbrian murderer, Raoul Moat, the coalition government haven’t escaped the headlines entirely. Michael Gove remained in the spotlight after he failed to shake off the furore following his decision to cancel school building projects.

His announcement that some 700 school redevelopments would be scrapped in an effort to cut the deficit sparked outrage among members on all sides of the House.

Worse still, an almighty mix up followed with the Department of Education saying that some schools would be saved from the cuts, only to find out later this was a mistake and Gove was forced to apologise, again.

Even Conservative MPs are angered by this. Tory MP Philip Davies tabled a question asking why the projects in his constituency will be cut, and two dozen MPs have signed a motion condemning the ‘cavalier attitude towards pupils, parents and teachers.’

I don’t think I’ll have a chance to watch education questions tomorrow when Gove will be asked to offer a plan B for those schools hit by the controversial cuts, but I certainly hope he’s at home right now planning something to reinstate those education projects so badly needed across the country.

Gove isn’t the only minister currently facing the heat.  Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is also planning a £1bn attack on ‘bureaucracy’. He plans to reduce the number of health quangos There are disturbing rumours that the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which employs 2000 staff, will also be abolished.

It’s become terribly fashionable to bash the quangos, but they do a job and my concern is who will take on their role if they are abolished?

Many of the campaigns these organisations have been involved in have had a huge impact on our lives, in some cases proving to be life saving. Take the FSA campaign to reduce our salt intake or the saturated fat campaign, both of which have had a significant impact on how we as a nation think about food and our own personal health.

Other health quangos in the firing line are the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the NHS Blood and Transplant.  Both these organisations provide an essential service and they must not simply be done away with.

Both Lansley and Gove will face a huge backlash against their proposals. Is this an early warning of the tornados facing the government? Andrew Rawnsley asks just that in today’s Observer, which you can read here.

Meanwhile, on our side, Vincent Moss in today’s Sunday Mirror reveals that Peter Mandelson’s memoirs say Brown never got over losing his battle with Blair to become Labour leader in 1994. I hope there is something more compelling in Mandelson’s books than going over old stories that we have all heard time and time again.  If I decide to read it, I will want to know that there will be something a bit more insightful.  The full Sunday Mirror piece is here.

 Of course we still have Blair’s memoirs ‘The Journey’ to come out – due in September. Watch this space (and many others no doubt)…

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up


If the budget did one thing, it showed the Coalition Government in its true colours.  Now we know it’s a Tory Government in which the Lib-Dems appear to have very little say, I have decided it would be useful to do a weekly digest of some of the more iniquitous Tory actions during the past seven days plus anything else which seems interesting. 

Amid Wimbledon and World Cup fever, not to mention cricket, Andrew Lansley, the new Health Secretary quietly announced that he would cut patients right to see a family doctor within 48 hours as we all as dropping the 18 week waiting time target for hospital treatment.

Lansley says he is freeing the NHS from bureaucracy and targets that have no clinical justification. This will, it is claimed, help speed up the £850mn cuts that NHS managers are expected to make by 2014.

Monitoring it is essential to ensure that patients get the highest level of care and the earliest available opportunity. With no alternative in place I am concerned that we will return to the days when people waited for months, sometimes years for treatment, an appalling state of affairs which the Labour Government put a stop to.

I also read about Iain Duncan Smith’s announcement he would relocate the long-term unemployed to areas where there is greater opportunity for work. This is a tall order and I cannot see how this will work in reality. Is this just more rhetoric?

The Observer’s poll was an interesting read – it suggested support for the Lib-Dems had slumped because they backed the VAT increase. Surely this can’t be the only reason its voters are uprooting?  Conservative Government obviously does not suit Lib-Dem activists and voters.